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Thinking Like a Human: British Columbia’s ‘Apology Act

29th June 2009


"How strange," Milly said. "What on earth's everyone being sorry about all of a sudden?" Carol Shields, "Pardon" in Carol Shields, The Collected Stories (Toronto: Random House, 2005)

In 2006, British Columbia enacted the Apology Act, a law reform initiative intended to promote and protect statements of sympathy or regret made in connection with any matter. Other Canadian jurisdictions have since followed suit, and a model Apology Act has now been adopted by the Uniform Law Conference of Canada. The legislation has three basic effects: (i) it makes apologies inadmissible as evidence of fault or liability; (ii) it bars the use of an apology to confirm a cause of action so as to extend a limitation period; and (iii) it pre­vents the impairment of insurance coverage that would be available but for the apology.

The Apology Act can be compared and contrasted with the Australian legislation on which it was modelled and with various 'safe harbour' statutes in the U.S.A. that protect certain types of statements of sympathy or regret, typically those arising out of particular matters, such as accidents or medical malpractice. Unlike most of these legislative models, the Apology Act protects such statements even if they admit fault, and does not limit protection to particular types of matters.

While this legislation may not have resulted in a spate of people suddenly being sorry, the Apology Act can be seen as enabling apologies-in other words, the human and natural thing to do in many cases-and thus encouraging earlier settlements and alternative dispute resolution. Drawing on legal, sociological and psycho­logical research, John Kleefeld will review the Apology Act, consider the requisite contents of an effective apology, and look at effects that even minor variations in those contents can have on how well an apology is received. The discussion will also consider how all this fits within the broader societal context, including recent public apologies for past wrongs, such as those given by the Australian and New Zealand governments to their indigenous peoples. Contributions or examples from discussants-of apologies that have succeeded as well as those that have not-will be most welcome.

Admission Free - All Welcome

If you wish to attend please RSVP to Belinda Crothers, IALS, Email:


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